This month’s Maggie’s post is about the first centre in Wales, which opened just over a year ago, in December 2011. It’s an unusual story because the original architect Kisho Kurokawa died before the centre was built, so architecture firm Garbers & James delivered the project according to his plans.
Kisho Kurokawa was one of the greatest Japanese architects of the 20th Century, and a close friend of Maggie’s founder Maggie Keswick Jencks’. He wanted to create a design that would simultaneously inspire and comfort. He said: ““The new Maggie’s Centre will come out of the earth and swing around with two arms like a rotating galaxy. One side will welcome the visitor and lead to the other side, which embraces nature, the trees, rocks and water. ‘A place set apart’, as she [Maggie] said of a garden. The connection to the cosmos and contacts between East and West – two motives that Maggie and I shared – are in the design. I hope she would have liked it.”
The centre is in a glorious spot within the grounds of the Singleton Hospital – it is right next to beautiful natural woodland and has stunning views over Swansea Bay.
Prior to the opening of the new centre, Maggie’s had been operating out of an interim centre. A few days before the new space opened, Centre Head Debbie Horrigan was there alone and looked up through the sky light and saw the moon and one star. She said: “I just thought ‘look how far we’ve come’. The building is absolutely fantastic. There’s something about it – there’s an air of calm and it’s light and airy. You can see people visibly relax when they come through the door. Our Centre visitors tell us they feel so nurtured when they come into the Centre and immediately feel more relaxed. There’s a sense of calm even if it is busy around the kitchen table.”
John, a regular visitor to the centre described it as “the silent carer”. Brian Hewitt, another visitor said: “The building is incredible. It gives you a different perspective on architecture and cultures – and makes you feel relaxed.”
A purpose-built centre means Maggie’s is able to offer more support to people with cancer and their families and friends. New activities include a weekly yoga group, bereavement support, support groups for specific cancer-types, a walking group and and Where Now? – support for people whose treatment has come to an end, that helps them find their way back to ‘normal’ life.
Once a centre is open, Maggie’s relies on the local community to find the ongoing running costs. The people of South West Wales have really got behind this idea, and 69 locals, led by Richard Smith of Action Bikes with support from the South Wales Evening Post, recently cycled from Paris to Swansea to raise funds!
The architecture firm which brought the centre to life, Garbers & James, has become part of that community. Wendy James said: “The process of realising this Maggie’s Centre reached far beyond simply drawing and building. We were always so impressed and therefore motivated and inspired by the community that is Maggie’s South West Wales. Having got to know the wonderful staff, supporters, visitors, contractors and other characters associated with the Centre from its early inception, it is surprisingly hard to move on and simply leave them to their sometimes complex, sometimes subtle and always highly valuable very human work.”
“Having had the picture of the building so clearly inside our heads for so long, it perhaps wasn’t the surprise that it may have been for others. But to see facilities that we genuinely know assist all of the users, we now tend to enjoy the associated and rather more ephemeral qualities of light and sound, simultaneous expansive or curious views and its cosiness. And Thore [Garbers] thoroughly enjoyed putting the kitchen through its paces; cooking Konigsberger Klopse, a German speciality of meatballs in white sauce with capers, for the visitors shortly after opening.
“The building has heart, soul and spirit; we rather hoped this would be the case.”
Further reading for the especially geeky: